7.10.2015

what shaped your style?

oonaballoona | a sewing blog | alice & olivia storefront

I was weirdly drawn to these black and white prints on offer at Alice and Olivia, in a way that made a little voice inside me pipe up and scream: You like THAT? There isn't even any color in that! NooooOOOOOOoooo! Let's go find some crazy prints! CRA-ZEE PRINTS! CRA-ZEE PRINTS! CRA-ZEE PRINTS!

That voice belongs to a kid. When that kid sees black and white, that kid sees RED. That kid used to sit on a swingset on a cloudy day, decked out in a colorful print, and root with all her heart for the white clouds to win out over the black. Like any kid would. But she wasn't rooting against gray clouds, or the less common grey clouds, or rainy clouds, or dark, or swollen, or what have you. It was Black clouds. Battling White clouds.

That swingset was located in the backyard of my grandmother's house, the site of a handful of family gatherings, full of cousins, aunts and uncles of multiple and mixed races... none of which seemed to care for my nuclear family's special blend of color, all of which had no problem frankly expressing it. Now, there wasn't much White going on anywhere in that house, unless you counted Italian (us) and Irish (us and them, oddly enough), but it was the sort of setting where if you weren't Black enough, well, you weren't.

So after the obligatory greetings and salutations, I'd go out to the backyard and sit on the swingset, where there always seemed to be a mix of clouds fighting sunshine. And I would commence rooting. The kid wanted a sunny day, but any amateur shrink would agree: there was some symbolism going on there. Though it wasn't really about White versus Black--my parents (whom I am thankful to have been raised by every day) put a heavy dose of colorblindness into my edjumacation. The cloud fight wasn't about race, it was about "my family's label of me" versus "my family's label of themselves." A label of Black that did not include us, technically or no. I'm not ragging on my extended family, it was complicated...hell, my grandmother had to hide parts of her mix just to be legally married to my grandfather. Talk about real life struggle. She was lighter skinned than me, and up until my 20s we assumed she was Black, because that was the party line. With a history like that, I can't fault my extended family for their views. In fact I kind of thank them.

As kid morphed to teen, I'd still visit the swingset, because come on, IT'S A SWINGSET, but I also began to carefully choose my outfit for these family gatherings. It had to have a certain amount of shock value to make the grade. Vibrant clashing colors, lace, jewel toned paint on my cheek. I figured if they were going to judge my skin, I might as well adorn it appropriately. Give them some color atop my offending color.

I'd rock just about every color in the world to that house. But it hit me yesterday...damned if I still can't rock a little black dress! YES. THAT IS HOW I'M BRINGING THIS STORY BACK TO SEWING. For example: my BHL Georgia fringed jam, which I adore, has not been worn out (save for those very frigid, very wide, blog photos). Perhaps I should prescribe a little color therapy for myself and take it out for an Actual Life Event (and some better photographic evidence).

I realize that my disdain for somber hues on my own frame is not really about family racial relations. But I find it interesting to think about race as a factor in shaping my love for color.

What shaped your style? 

45 comments:

  1. My mother definitely helped shape my style (except for those early teen years when I rebelled against anything she said). Classic and suited to the occasion were the order of the day. My mother also had a favorite saying; "A lady of a certain age never . . . (fill in the blank). As a teenager it meant I was too young for the more revealing styles. As a middle-aged woman now it means I'm too old for them. Apparently there was a weekend somewhere in the 1980's when I was the perfect age to wear whatever I wanted, but I missed it. :)

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    1. that lost weekend!!! your mom should have put a big red circle around it! so, do you break your mother's rules now?

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  2. Oona, after reading this thoughtful post, I'm feeling wrapped up in those clouds right along with your younger self. I applaud you for using colour as your super power! Maybe I did a little of the same. Perhaps, after hearing that redheads look good in green for the gazillionth time and that we don't look pretty in the pretty girl shades, I rebelled.

    Even if we choose a stunning LBD, let's pinky swear to never forget those little girl dreams!

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    1. pinky swear accepted, my colorful friend :)

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  3. Also race and family! Although in a totally different way:) I'll tell the story, but feel free to skip if I'm boring you:
    I am a dark-skinned (for a white person) giantess. I stuck out like a bruised thumb in almost every family gathering we had when I was a kid/teenager/younger adult. They were mostly with my Mom's family, see, and they are proper Scandinavians-- blond, super pale, blue eyes, and taller than average, but not as tall as me for the most part. PLUS I grew up in North Pole,Alaska, so it kind of made me the circus attraction (Heavens, how many times can someone ask me if I know Santa Claus?!) I take after my father, who's grandmother had an illicit affair with one of the local Native Americans and produced my full-Cherokee-looking grandmother, who produced my full-Cherokee-looking father, who produced me with a Viking princess and made someone who looks half EVERYTHING. I most certainly did not fit in :)
    Anyway, fast forward to college. I went to school at BYU, where most people were white. I tanned fantastically in the desert, and by the end of first semester they assigned me a very lonely Chinese roommate because they thought I was half Asian and would make her feel more comfortable! The fact that I majored in linguistics and speak and understand several languages only made people more confused-- was I half Japanese? Chinese? Mexican? Arab? African? Alaskan Native? It was a hot topic of conversation in my neighborhood, which I thought was hilarious. Part Cherokee was the only thing nobody ever guessed!
    MOVING ON: I realized (and realize more now) that people base so much of what they expect from you on what you ARE-- race, gender, religion, nationality, what have you. But nobody knew what to expect from me, because they couldn't figure out what race I was, and that was immensely freeing. Do I want to wear Indian sari fabric? Go right ahead! Japanese-influenced professional wear? Knock yourself out! Anything went, and it was so fun-- my most common compliment was that I looked "exotic".
    I don't go quite as out there as I used to. I live in Seattle now, tans are few and far between, and I'm more mindful of hurting people if they think I'm kind of costuming as them, if that makes sense. But I still love adding nods to different cultures in what I make. I'll make a pretty standard top out of an Indian cotton/silk weave, or use Japanese prints in a plain old t-shirt. I'll borrow style lines from my Pakistani neighbor. Someday I'll figure out what to do with some Mauritanian waxed print that was a gift from a friend. I'm not all people, but I can wear my appreciation for their cultures, and their beauty.

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    1. skip?! your story is FASCINATING! and so true that people need to categorize what they see...but what if you have 18 categories? why choose-- especially when those categories come with the definition specific to the viewer...

      and this?

      "I'm not all people, but I can wear my appreciation for their cultures, and their beauty."

      genius.

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    2. Thank you! I appreciate that a lot. :)

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    3. I loved reading your story- it really was fascinating! :-)

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    4. I'm going to steal that phase. I'm pretty easily categorized, looks wise, the the world has lots of beautiful things that don't match my genetic heritage. (you put it much more gracefully)

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  4. What a thoughtful post, thank your sharing. On my end...mom and dad's party photos of them dancing in the sixties, in the same era, my elegant aunt with a bouffant updo, impeccably dressed... looking up to my teenage sister who was rocking it out in the 80s when fashion was so fun... I could go on... I think it constantly changes and that's the joy of it!

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    1. your style is so very YOU, and so very joyful!

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  5. What a thoughtful post, thank your sharing. On my end...mom and dad's party photos of them dancing in the sixties, in the same era, my elegant aunt with a bouffant updo, impeccably dressed... looking up to my teenage sister who was rocking it out in the 80s when fashion was so fun... I could go on... I think it constantly changes and that's the joy of it!

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  6. Ahhhh the sticking out in families thing, we were the posh family (lived on an council estate, really not posh just pronounce our T's) and were picked on, we were also not allowed to wear trainers and generally I wore hand made dresses. I like colour and now I no longer work in an office I rebel and do not wear black head to toe now, this can only be a good thing (I picked up a lovely purple/pink floral jersey today, cannot wait to whip that cloth up to a moneta). I say wear what makes you happy, this does mean I walk around with a peppa pig dressed daughter, a princess with full train and tiara (I make them for a living my daughter rocks the castoffs), a fashionista who rocks everything type daughter and a daughter who really does not give a monkeys what she wears. I think they are all strong, unique beautiful daughters, and I love them lots, you are loved too. I think my style now evolves, but you know as a child of the 80's bubble skirts, dungarees and colours rule!

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    1. oh to see your troop of girls walking down the street, i bet you all are a sight to grin at!

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  7. I have been thinking a lot lately about what shapes our personal style and preferences..I think that my love for vintage/ feminine looks and floral prints might have something to do with the way I romanticize the past, and have always had a love for anything old. My family has always had an appreciation of antiques, but I am not sure if I inherited this love for old things or was just drawn to it. Working as a designer at Shabby Chic for so many years must have influenced me for sure! I guess I will always love the physical freedom that you have as a child wearing comfy clothes, I never want to wear anything too tight or restricting.

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    1. i do think of you as a romantic girl, all soft colors and airy translucent fabrics... perhaps your family's antiques seeped into your childhood subconscious and never let go?

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  8. My grandmother was very anti-fashion. Just throw on whatever hideous mix of polyesters from the thrift store. Made fun of by her daughters-in-law behind her back, but I quite liked the 70's florals and the lots of browns and the skirt over pants and mostly the randomness and, I-don't-care-how-I-look. About half of the things I sew have two fabrics, I love the mixing. I love mixing blue and brown and black and brown, just because everybody says they don't go together. I LOVE looking like I just threw on random bits from the thrift shop. I definitely rebel against my mother's more put together style and her insistence of wearing nylons under dresses for church, and appropriate shoes, etc. Oh, and I always wore a different sock on each foot when I was a kid and teenager - I should really bring that back this fall.

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    1. so then, your anti-fashion grandma shaped your love of fashion! does she know this? because it's brilliant!

      love the teenage sock rebellion. absolutely bring that back. and really, where did the bluebrownblack rule come from? same people who ban white after labor day?

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  9. I think my style was largely inspired by the colored fairy books - those lovely Edwardian illustrations of the women with the endless hair and beautiful gowns. That, to me, is beauty. Although I've always worn my hair long, I am not slender and willowy, so I can't dress just like the girls in the illustrations, but I think that if you took a look at my closet and jewelry box, you'd feel the mood nonetheless.

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    1. oh, i love that. such a beautiful, whimsical source of style! "what are you wearing?" "oh, i'm wearing edwardian fairy coloring book."

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  10. ;I should say the world influenced my style. I grew up in the South in an all black town, attended an all black school, and attended an all black college. I grew up during that if you light, bright u alright; if its nappy and black get the hell on back! I'm the latter, Boy when I saw Naomi Sims on the cover ofa white mag. that set me free!Big hoops, necklaces, loud colors bringem on! Indian saris at a Baptist church? Yep. Kimonos and Afros with coral red lipstick at Black family events? AAAhh...........

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    1. this is one of the reasons i can't fault my extended family for their side eye-- there's so much wrapped up in everyone's own racial experience of amount-of-black, what's "right", what "isn't." oh for the day when we're all mixed up!

      i LOVE your description of your style, i can absolutely picture it, in technicolor.

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  11. I've recently realised that my fashion icon as a child was Anita from the animated 101 Dalmatians. I saw it with school in some early grade, and then had a jigsaw puzzle with a picture of the dalmatians' return home, and she was so... right. Simple and elegant without sacrificing the nerdy side (= reading with glasses, which I actually never needed myself). I've been aspiring to that since, with many hitches and detours. Some of it had to do with the fact that she was also so obviously grown-up, and I wasn't.
    On the rather traumatic side of things, one of the detours was growing up the single Christian in my class, never fitting in and not really wanting to, and following the looser, sometimes ethnic inspired, sometimes punkish, who knows what else styles of the evengelical youth (not the same thing as in the US). That group where the cool sisters would swap shoes so each of them wore two mis-matched colours, and where tie-dyed T-shirts were everywhere, and natural fibres ruled. And most importantly, people there did not look down on me for wearing thrifted stuff and being behind fashions.
    And then historical fashions.
    Which then combined into the attitude of wearing whatever I like, I prefer style over fashion, as long as it's got a nice fit, is preferrably natural fibre, historically-inspired cut is an asset.
    And then there's you and your wild colours and prints, taking me out of a rut of dressing nice and in colours that should suit me. :D

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    1. what a great childhood icon, i don't think i've ever heard of an animated figure as a fashion icon! did you see it during the time you were dealing with not fitting in? though i wish we didn't have to separate into groups in society, it's great that you found your gang.

      and i hope the occasional break from your "rut" is welcome...teheeeheeee....

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    2. Very welcome. :D
      I can't remember anymore when I saw it, especially because we went to see quite many films with school (it was almost a rule both before Christmas and before the end of the school year), including the live action version later on! I was rather disappointed by that one. :P

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    3. eep, live action dalmations...i'm picturing faux fur costumes or actual dogs on the loose...

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  12. I don't know what shaped my style, my hippy leanings from my younger days contributed to my love of boho and I love color, the brighter the better. I just wanted to say also that I think of you every time I cut something with my new Kai scissors. I bought the least expensive ones but they cut through everything like butter! Thanks to you.

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    1. i'm so glad you like them! yes, even the low end kais cut terrifically (and when you drop them you feel a little less terrible ;)

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  13. I don't know what shaped my style, my hippy leanings from my younger days contributed to my love of boho and I love color, the brighter the better. I just wanted to say also that I think of you every time I cut something with my new Kai scissors. I bought the least expensive ones but they cut through everything like butter! Thanks to you.

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  14. That's a fascinating post, Oona! My family is oh so very white... Though I think my mother is darker than you! ;)

    My husband is Metis, mixed First Nations and white, but its own culture and history out here---he and his mom are both blond and read completely white, which didn't always please members of the extended family. (On the other hand my mother-in-law has stories of getting in trouble for "talking like an Indian" after spending time with some of her more native-leaning cousins.) I wouldn't say it had much to do with his personal style, though feeling like an outsider certainly did.

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    1. if i remember correctly he has a sort of rebellious biker style? didn't i see you two on a bike?

      "talking like an indian," statements like that make my teeth clench!

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  15. Really interesting post- I certainly take after my mother in my more casual, everyday clothes choices. Preppy chic is how I'd describe it- we have the same build and more or less suit the same shapes and colours. But when I'm feeling a bit more adventurous I like to wear 40s and 50s styles- which I have no idea where that came from! That bit must just be 'me', all by myself :-) Great post Oona! Lexie X

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    1. thanks lexie! i love that adventurous means classic styles for you ;)

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  16. Frustration. I was a fat kid and a fat teen and now I'm a fat adult. I would love nothing more than to dress as stylishly as my thinner friends, but it's just not made in my size. So I've kind of been shoe horned into whatever Lane Bryant, Torrid, and/or Avenue decides to make. So I dress more classically and more somberly than I probably would if I were thinner. As such, many of my makes are kind of painfully on-trend or things that I longed for for ages.

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    1. i think we all make those things we love, but don't love us back, at first-- after all, we can sew, so surely we can make the RTW styles that don't look right magically work for us. i kept going for foofy gathered skirts and scoop necks before realizing it just made me look sad! perhaps you've just not landed on the right shapes for your shape yet?

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  17. As a kid, I didn't care for fashion at all and pulled of the Steve Jobs Style (jeans, sweater, trainers) every day.
    Then at around 13 most girls in my class would start to dress up in "sexy" clothes. Which confused me a lot. Not only was I a late bloomer and a tomboy, but to my 13-year-old self dressing up sexy also equalled "dressing for the boys". And I didn't want to give boys that power over my body.

    I think it was Avril Lavigne that led me to discover skater and surfer girl styles. Those girls looked so cool and powerful and their style felt much more like "me" than the girly-girl clothes everyone else seemed to pull off (it was a small town middle school so there wasn't much variety fashion-wise).

    Howevery, my biggest style influence to date has been the discovery of personal fashion blogs at around 2007. The idea that fashion could be an "everyday thing", that you didn't have to read Vogue or hit H&M every week to have a unique style, changed my world. It also made me realize that you can totally dress feminine and sexy for yourself. So in my early twenties, I started experimenting much more with my style. I wore dresses and skirts and thrift shop finds and bold colours and crazy prints and had so much fun!

    Today, there's still a bit of everything in my style: Beautiful colours and prints, leather jackets and ripped jeans, ... even that minimalist Steve-Jobs-phase of my childhood shines through. Sometimes a bit too much, though – after going through some style changes I'm currently trying to make colourful prints take over my closet again :)

    Anyway, this turned out longer than expected. I just wanted to say I loved your post. It's so interesting to read everyone's stories.

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    1. thank you wiebke, and thanks for such a thoughtful response! you make a very good point about the difference between marketed fashion and what we see in the online community-- it really does bring it to an attainable level, rather than some mystical Vogue closet. and your mix of style sounds brilliant!

      and that BHL blazer you have in the works is going to be SO COOL.

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  18. I can't really point to any particular thing that shaped my style, except perhaps for the fact that I never grew up. I love bright colors but I also like interesting prints in neutral or subdued colors. (I have one brown and beige piece in my stash that has antique catalog ads for sewing machines and corsets.How can something like that not be awesome?) And I absolutely love white on black paisley.

    Since you brought up the subject I have to say that I have the greatest in-laws in the world. Every single one of them. We're mostly white but we have added some black and brown in the last two decades and family gatherings are always warm, peaceful and fun.

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    1. your style matured in immaturity!!! in the best sense of the word, of course ;)

      i'm lucky to have amazing in-laws as well, with the same growing mix. in fact, i always feel like i have to add a disclaimer when i say we're visiting in-laws, because they don't fit with the cliche definition of that word one bit--i'm sure you get that too :)

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    2. Actually, I rarely use the term "in-laws". I just call them my family and only specify that I'm talking about "in-laws" if necessary to avoid confusion.

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    3. yeah, i even hate typing MIL! i once considered changing it to in-love, but that sounded a bit too cheesy.

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  19. I'm a child of the 60's,..so that was part ofwhat shaped my style. My older brother was a 100% true tie-dyed hippie, and he'd see clothes that he thought his little sister should have & bring them home when he visited. I remember having the cooooolest swimsuit in our little town that he brought me. Black & lime green, hot pink, orange purple and lemon yellow! Psychedelic, complete with a skinny backstrap and cut almost to my navel on the sides. I remember feeling like a model! I have an auntie whose style is eccentric, and she spent a lot of time teaching me to believe in my style and just go for it. I saw her yesterday, and she was wearing a black & white striped tee, with the stripes going in every direction over a pair of lime green capris--at 78 years old. Rockin'!

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    1. your family sounds chock full of wonderful enablers of style!

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  20. I guess I am still finding my style a bit. Wonder if I'll ever stop? I used to be a grungy goth and wore lots of black and velvet and burned through kohl eyeliner like I had shares in it. But then I realised I missed colour and vintage styles and then most importantly learned how to sew and my wardrobe was unrecognisable! But always, I've had a slight disconnect between what I want to wear and sew and what looks nice on me. It means style is a moving goalpost for me. But I don't think I mind :-)

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  21. I guess I am still finding my style a bit. Wonder if I'll ever stop? I used to be a grungy goth and wore lots of black and velvet and burned through kohl eyeliner like I had shares in it. But then I realised I missed colour and vintage styles and then most importantly learned how to sew and my wardrobe was unrecognisable! But always, I've had a slight disconnect between what I want to wear and sew and what looks nice on me. It means style is a moving goalpost for me. But I don't think I mind :-)

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i thankya truly for taking the time to comment, i love a good conversation-- and hope you know my thanks are always implied, if not always written!